Savoy voters reject bylaw allowing taller wind turbines

Voters cast their ballots during the special town meeting in Savoy on Wednesday. A proposal to allow for taller wind turbines was shot down.

SAVOY — Town voters soundly rejected a bylaw amendment that would have allowed taller wind turbines on Wednesday.

By a vote of 126 to 53, voters shot down the proposal to amend a bylaw that would allow Minuteman Wind LLC and its partner, Palmer Capital Corp., to increase the height of its West Hill turbine blades from 425 to 453 feet.

The proposed amendment required a two-thirds majority to pass.

The special town meeting drew a crowd of Savoy residents that filled the Savoy Fire House on Main Road.

Unlike previous meetings that became controversial, there was little discussion on the proposal prior to it coming to a vote by secret ballot. At times, the fire house was so loud that the town clerk struggled to hear voters as they came forward for a ballot.

"Our next step is to regroup as a project team and figure out what we're going to do," said Lindsay Deane-Mayer, the project manager for Palmer Management on behalf of Minuteman Wind. "I think the town spoke, obviously, about the height of the turbines and not wanting longer blades."

There remains an active permit for five turbines at the site.

"I think it's important for the public to know that they can always ask questions about the project," Deane-Mayer said.

Representatives for the developer had argued that the additional height would increase the installation's energy output from the five turbines some 15 percent, reaching the 12.5 megawatts it had originally planned for.

With smaller blades, the estimated output would be approximately 11 megawatts.

The original bylaw, which sets the parameters for the West Hill wind installation, was approved by town voters in 2008.

Company representatives have said that the change was required because the original turbines are no longer manufactured, prompting it to explore alternatives.

The boost in production at the wind farm would be a windfall for the town, the project's advocates argued, due to the structure of its planned payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement with the town.

When they initially submitted the proposal, developers initially told town officials the PILOT would exceed $200,000, according to Select Board Chairman John Tynan.

But since the wind farm project was resurrected about 18 months ago, the proposed annual PILOT has fallen to $73,000.

"Since [April], there hasn't been a lot of movement," Tynan said.

A deal has yet to be struck, and Tynan told the crowd on Wednesday that the parties remain about $100,000 apart.

"We're just trying to take care of the town," Tynan told The Eagle.

Deane-Mayer said PILOT negotiations will continue.

"The longer blades would have yielded a much higher PILOT payment, so that's something the town is aware of. We will work with them," Deane-Mayer said.

Many residents have raised opposition to the plans, citing concerns about its impact to their quality of life and health.

Pat Palmer, a Holly Road resident, said those who live near wind turbines in Florida had sparked concern among Savoy residents. She also questioned the PILOT payment.

"They're not going to get the money they think they're going to get," Palmer said.

Wes Briggs was also against the proposal, citing the noise generated by the turbines and their potential health impacts.

"It wasn't really about the length of the blades," Briggs said.

Sarah Satterthwaite said she had "mixed feelings" about the proposal and felt as though she had to choose between climate change, which she cited as a concern, and her neighbors.

"Every neighbor was worried about them," said Satterthwaite, who also recalled hearing tales from Florida residents about what it's like to live near turbines.

Reach staff writer Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376 or @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter